I started teaching myself to crochet this past fall. I wanted to learn something crafty that didn’t involve a lot of money or tools, something I could do sitting on my couch if I felt like it. I started out making a scarf and, well, it was pretty rough. I got about halfway done (about 2 weeks of working on it, here and there) and it looked like I’d been drunk when I made it. While I don’t consider myself a perfectionist, I was definitely not pleased. But I was almost done! And I’d been stitching away at it diligently for 2 weeks, I didn’t want to just start over! I kept adding stitches here and there, trying to make it work, but at the end of one night, as I sat and looked at this wreck of yarn, I just started unraveling it. Just pulled at the loose end and before I knew it I had a ball of wiggly, tired looking yarn on my lap and thought “Well, here’s where we start over.”
I recently read “Faith Shift” by Kathy Escobar. It’s about going through changes in your beliefs…major changes where it feels like the whole world is collapsing beneath you. The last 5 or so years of my life has been a time of huge shifting in my faith, and while it has been uncomfortable and messy, it has also been incredibly freeing and a bit of a relief to let go of so many things. While I have often felt alone, reading books like Kathy’s along with other blogs, articles and posts have helped me feel less alone and less crazy. When no one in your life is going through something remotely similar, you need all the lifelines you can find. She uses the term “unraveling” quite a bit in the book, and as I thought about my crocheting, the analogy really fit.
Like my scarf, my faith was something I’d been working on my whole life, even as a child, even before (as the evangelical world would put it) I got “saved” or “born again.” I pieced together all these things, trying to make a faith that fit. I took things from many different traditions and denominations, from people who I looked up to and admired, added them all in to try and make something that would surround and protect me, to help me make it through this life somewhat unscathed. I was very fearful as a child, and I think I have always been looking for some way out of that fear, to wall me off from the fear of pain, loss, failure, rejection, isolation, from a God that seemed rather capricious and untrustworthy. So I knit together this faith and it sort of worked. It kept me warm at times. It gave me some warm fuzzy feelings and I sometimes felt like I fit in, like God was pleased with me, like I was getting it “right.”
But I couldn’t help noticing that, like an uncomfortable sweater, my faith never quite fit. It was too tight in some places, too loose in others. I was really having to work hard to make it fit. Additionally, it wasn’t keeping the fear out…I’d actually knit that fear right in there along with all the other beliefs, like a black thread that colored everything around it, it was kind of choking me right along with those things, those beliefs that I couldn’t quite make fit comfortably. Life started happening, and there were nicks and tears in my faith, whole chunks started to go missing. I kept pulling at those loose threads, adding new stitches, trying to make it right until eventually I was just left with a pile of loose ends, wiggly, wobbly, worn threads that sat in a sad little heap at my side. And I felt naked and vulnerable and alone.
That’s kind of where I sit right now actually, although I will say alongside of the vulnerable and alone I also feel so much freedom. Sometimes it’s a terrifying kind of freedom. I have no idea what to do next or how I’m going to make sense of the beliefs that I have cast off. Right now I feel like only thing I can say with any confidence is that I still believe in a God. (and trust me, there were days I wasn’t even sure of that!) The fear is still right there with me, but I am hell-bent on NOT bringing it along for the rest of this ride. It’s a sneaky bastard though and it keeps trying to weave its way in there. I have to keep ripping it out.
I started that scarf over again and was much happier with the final result. It is far from perfect; I’m sure my friends who crochet would smile and pat me on the head condescendingly if they looked closely at it. But it keeps me warm when I wear it, and it has a shiny purple thread running through it that sparkles when the sun hits it. And I made it. I think it’s beautiful. I have no idea what my faith will look like as I move through the days and years ahead. I imagine I’ll knit something and then pull it all to pieces many more times. But I finally am coming to accept (sort of kind of most of the time when it’s sunny out) that this is ok, and that the end result is not some perfect, impenetrable shield against life and the world. But something pretty, sparkly (LOVE is the sparkle, people) that brings a tentative, sometimes shaky beauty and warmth to the person wearing it and those they come in contact with.
And with that I’ll stop before I take this metaphor too far 🙂
I have this group of imaginary friends. They’re pretty amazing too. And I know a lot about them…I know their names, where they live, their families. There’s Jamie, and her husband The Beard and her uber-cool cat Knives. And Rachel and Dan and her escapades in Biblical Womanhood. Kristen and her stunning family, and gosh, she is SO smart. And Glennon, with Husband and Sister and her nutty, funny kids. There’s lots of others too…and they keep pointing me to other imaginary friends which is kind of cool of them, right? I could tell you lots about them, things they think and believe, even some things about their past and their fears and insecurities…which is pretty incredible for imaginary friends. For people I’ve never met. People I sometimes wonder if they’re really real because I read their words and I want so badly for them to be real, I want so badly for them to be sitting here in my living room, one of them…all of them, like those god-awful paintings of all the presidents hangin’ out shooting pool…just sitting here drinking wine, telling me yes, it’s fine, it’s ok, you’re ok, it’s all going to be ok the world is not ending.
Because I read their stories, their posts, and sometimes-ok, most times-it’s like reading something from my own thoughts. It makes me feel less crazy. It resonates with me on the deepest level. As I struggle with my faith, my world view, the church I have claimed as my own for the past 25 years, they have made me feel ok. They have made me feel like no, I’m not alone. Like there’s hope.
The People in my life, THE people, the real people, my people…the not imaginary people…they don’t really get it. They tell me to stop thinking so much, to stop worrying, stop questioning. To stop reading about things that make me upset. Because, you know, it’s just that easy. The Church-y people in my life are like “Just pray about it! Just read the Bible! It’s all right there in the Bible! The Bible just says everything you need to know and questions aren’t worth asking and besides it sounds like you’re coming to all the wrong conclusions.” And the Non-Church-y people in my life are like “Well, we’ve always thought the Church sucked anyway. What took you so long?” And somehow neither of those seems fully right or true in my gut but the only people that say things that do seem true seem like imaginary people because I have never actually seen them in person I’ve just read their words.
The past few days with this whole World Vision bullshit has got me feeling like the world is imploding around me. I just want to give up on Christianity. Toss my label, my allegiance. Not to God, not to Jesus, but to the Church. Can you believe in God and Jesus and refuse to call yourself a Christian? Then I read the words of oh, Jen Hatmaker, who sounds so wise and thoughtful, and I think, ok, if I can just get around some of these people then maybe I can still claim this faith. Maybe I can still hang here. And then I make the mistake of reading some of the comments which I should. not. do, and for every 10 positive, “Yes! This!” comments there are the nasty, the self-righteous, the snarly, biting, vicious, “You’re wrong and isn’t that sad for you because you’re not really listening to/following Jesus and he has no room for you, no grace for you” ragged teeth that just tear at the delicate line that had been anchoring me to what little faith I have left that Christianity is a faith worth following.
I feel like everything’s collapsing around me. But I keep reading. Because my imaginary friends are pretty amazing, and I’m pretty confident I’m not just making them up, and they keep writing things that give me hope, that make me want to be better, that speak to my heart, that tell me I’m not alone even though I feel. so. alone. And in spite of wanting to just say fuck it! I’m done! I think God just might be speaking to me through them. My imaginary friends. Maybe someday I’ll get to hug one of them or listen to one of them speak or something. That would be…well, that just might be heaven.
Last Sunday, my husband and I went to see the musical “Rock of Ages.” It was a lot of fun, and afterward we both agreed that we should go to see more shows. We’ve definitely seen some musicals and plays in our time, but that kind of outing took a hiatus with 3 young kids. But now that they’re older (we should bring them with us now too) it’s easier to go do “grown up” activities, so we decided we definitely need to make that effort.
“The Book of Mormon” recently came through Baltimore, and I mentioned to Bill that I would like to see that one sometime. He said he wasn’t sure he’d be comfortable with something that was so clearly attacking/making fun of a particular religion. I’d read a review in the Baltimore Sun, and I countered that it seemed kind of like Saturday Night Live, in that they kind of poke fun at everything. And that at the heart of it was just an examination of what faith really is, and the questions that many of us naturally have about religion. That it was deeper than just an attack on one particular faith.
*A side note here: the last couple of years have found me in a place where I am questioning almost everything about my Christian faith. Much of what I believed 5, 10 years ago has gone by the wayside and I am in the process of trying to figure out just what I do believe. So a show about questioning your faith would be right up my alley. 20 years ago I would probably have been outraged at a show like this. I wrote a very naive, overly-righteous, black and white critique of “The Last Temptation of Christ” my senior year of high school. The best part was that I hadn’t even seen the movie–ah, the surety of youth. Now I would likely appreciate that very movie on a whole other level.
Anyway. So then I mentioned that something I found interesting about the show was that Mormons have not shown the outrage at this show that you might expect. In fact, they actually have put ads for their churches, to find out more about the LDS faith, in the Playbills.
I said to Bill that, from what little I know about the LDS this isn’t really surprising. We spent 7 years in Laramie, Wyoming, where I was surrounded by more Mormons than I’d ever encountered in my life. (For obvious, geographical reasons.) And, to a man (or woman), they were all some of the nicest, friendliest, happiest people I have ever met. The very first weekend we were there, with the moving truck in front of the house, 2 elders came by and asked if we wanted help moving in. I was totally taken aback. It got to the point where I’d meet someone, think what an incredibly nice person they were, then find out they were LDS and think “Oh right. Of course.”
*Another aside…I’m well aware that not all Mormons can possibly be nice, friendly and happy. I’m basing this observation solely on my own personal interactions. I’m also aware that Mormonism is a controversial faith. I have read Under The Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer and was quite disturbed by it, and not just the fundamentalist/polygamous factions. I realize people have a lot of issues with the Mormon faith that are likely justified. However, this blog is not meant to address/judge the Mormon faith in any way, other than as a comparison on this one area. I don’t know enough to be qualified to do that.
Bill’s next comment though, was what really sparked my thinking. He said “Well, that’s because Mormons are pretty secure in who they are.”
I thought, wow. That is so true. Then I thought about my own faith, Christianity. If there were a “Book of Mormon” type musical about Evangelical Christianity, can you imagine the outrage?? Shoot, Christians cry “persecution!” if they get wished ‘Happy Holidays” for crying out loud. And maybe that’s because we’re not secure in who we are. There are hundreds of denominations, none of which agree on a whole host of topics. Are Christians pro-life or pro-choice? Are we Democrat or Republican? Do we believe in evolution or solely in a young earth theory? Can gay people be Christians? Do we tithe? Practice Lent? Sprinkle or immerse for baptism? You could compose a very long list of the things that Christians disagree on, from the banal to the more serious, with people falling everywhere on the spectrum from ultra-conservative to super liberal with many in between. And we love to claim that “our” particular brand of Christianity is the “true faith” and that “those people” can’t possibly really be a Christian. Perhaps that lack of true identity is what makes us feel so insecure, what makes some Christians feel like they are under attack and have to fight imaginary persecution at every turn, because we don’t have any idea who we are and what it really means to be a Christian.
Which gives us shaky ground where the rest of the world is concerned. When you ask the average person “What is a Christian?” you will get a whole host of answers, and I’d be willing to bet that a lot of them would be negative.
The Bible tells us to find our identity in Christ. And Jesus, over all things big and small, emphasizes “love your neighbor as yourself”. Love God, love your neighbor. Love is what our identity should be rooted in, what our faith should be rooted in. Not rules. Not politics. Not judgment. Not one-upmanship. Love is the bottom line.
The old song goes “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” I don’t think that’s true at all.
I wonder if we can get that identity back.
I’ve got book club this afternoon…our selection for this month was “Until I Say Goodbye” by Susan Spencer-Wendel. It’s a memoir by a woman who was diagnosed at age 43 with ALS. A journalist, wife, and mom of 3 young children, she writes about her last year of relative good health following her diagnosis. The subtitle is “my year living with joy”, as she makes the most of the time she has left before the disease renders her incapable of doing…well, everything. She writes about the progression of the disease as it takes its toll on her body, and how, in spite of it all, she finds beauty and joy and laughter and things to be thankful for. By the time she wrote the book she essentially had control of one finger, and basically wrote the book on her iphone with that one finger.
I initially resisted reading the book after my friend Virginia suggested it. See, a lot of times I find life and its assorted dangers and pitfalls to be utterly terrifying. I stopped watching “The Today Show” several years ago because I couldn’t stand hearing about one more tragic story, giving me one more thing to worry about and obsess over in those dark hours when your brain travels to those scary places and you can’t reel it back in. The dad who lost his wife and kids to a drunk driver. The home invasion where everyone was brutally killed. The tragic accident that claimed a bride and her new husband. You don’t have to look too far to find stories like these. To keep myself from dwelling on them I just tried to avoid them. I couldn’t get rid of the fears I already had but I could sure try to prevent new ones.
See, its not the stories themselves even that got me so worked up. No…what really messes with my head is the idea that the survivors, those left behind, always talked about the things they learned the joy they found in spite of the sorrow the beauty that rose from the ashes. Even worse…as a person who (most of the time) professes faith in Christ, hearing other Christians tell their tragic stories…that “God taught me so much” and “changed me so much” and “used something terrible for his glory” is probably my biggest stumbling point with the Christian faith, with God himself. I was, am still, really, petrified at the thought that God will rip my family apart, destroy everything good in my life, ravage my heart or my health all in the name of teaching me some sort of lesson, of making me a better person…what the hell kind of God is that?? That God scares the crap out of me. No matter how many times the Bible says “do not fear!” and “there is no fear in love” I can not wrap my head around that God. I am terrified of that God. I don’t know who that God is, if I even want to, am even able to believe in him but I do out of fear that he will teach me some sort of lesson if I don’t. When I pray a lot of times my prayer is just a gasp of “God I don’t want that to be my story! Please don’t let that be my story!” I don’t want to learn that lesson. I don’t want to be that person on the Today show.
So I didn’t want to read this book. I didn’t want to have to worry about getting ALS right now at this stage in my life (although I already worry about any number of other diseases). I didn’t want to think about how getting ALS was so great in the long run because it taught her so many things and she was a better person for it. Up until last week I hadn’t even bothered to look up the book. I hung out with Virginia and Felicity (my other friend in book club) and they both said “No, really–its not sad! Trust us. Well, it’s sad but not how you think. Just read it.” And they didn’t even know about all my internal issues.
I picked up the book Thursday and had finished it by Friday night.
And they were right…the first chapter or so, as she started having health issues and struggled with finding a diagnosis, denying what she most feared was probably true, and then wrestling with the final diagnosis…yeah, that was sad. But the rest of the book was amazing. It was really inspiring, it was hopeful and funny and not tragic at all. Even though you know right this very moment she is in hospice and uses a special computer that she points her nose at to write and communicate with because every muscle in her body no longer works. Yes…there were “sad-ish” parts. But it wasn’t sad. She wasn’t sad. She was fiercely determined to not wallow in self pity, about what might have beens, about what she could no longer do, have, etc. She just lived in each moment, each day and fought to find joy in those things. By the end of the book I found myself feeling like I too, could get through just about anything.
So…why didn’t this story scare the heck out of me, like so many of those others do? I think because it didn’t come across as “God teaching me a lesson through ALS.” She claims a faith in God, a belief in heaven, a spirituality, yes. But nowhere does she claim that “God allowed me to go through this so I could be a better person.” She is NOT an evangelical by any stretch. Most American Christians would probably dismiss her story because of that (probably part of the reason I like it so much, ha!). I think though, it reinforced something I am beginning to believe is the way God works in the world. (Which I am PROBABLY WRONG ABOUT because anytime you think you’ve got God figured out you are more than likely TOTALLY OFF BASE. But I’m really comfortable being wrong so, what the heck.)
I’m not comfortable with the idea that God does or does not do something in a particular event. Like when we say “Oh, thank God I was home when our frozen pipe burst.” Like it’s some sort of miracle that God kept you from going out the door 5 minutes earlier. So…for the person who WASN’T home when their pipe burst…God wasn’t there? God just let them head to work so that when they got home there was tons of water damage from the burst pipe? People love to say that God allowed this or didn’t allow that to happen, and are thankful and “Oh God is so good!” But then when the opposite happens…the diagnosis is bad, the tumor keeps growing, the car crash isn’t avoided…where is God in that? He’s allowing that to happen? He allows things for some and not for others? That seems so arbitrary and well, cruel. I can’t wrap my head around that. It just doesn’t make sense to me. It brings up the age old question of “If God is so good why do bad things still happen??”
I’m more of the belief that God doesn’t intervene in events in the world. The world is fallen. The world is imperfect. We all have free will and things happen. Bad things happen. God didn’t cause that hurricane because he’s mad at someone. He didn’t stop you from crashing into that car because you pray a lot. Things just happen. Things are random. There really are coincidences.
But I still think God is in there. I think he is in the wreckage. Or in the excitement. Or the thankfulness. He is in our reactions to things. The way people step up and show love and support for one another. God didn’t cause AIDS but God is in the doctors working to find a cure, the people caring for sick AIDS babies, in people showing love to AIDS patients. God didn’t cause that pipe to burst in your house but he was there in the neighbor that let you use their shower. In the friend who brought you all dinner. In the plumber who came right over and fixed it. And in all of this, this is how I see God redeeming the world. Not by stopping events or by causing events…but by getting right in the middle of those events with us as we all muddle through the good and bad of our lives.
Ok. This is getting long, I need to quit rambling. Bottom line: I liked this book. It made me feel ok about life and all the possibilities, even the bad ones. That I don’t need to be scared of God doing something to me (or not) because it’s not God doing it…it’s just how life is. Good things. Bad things. Just life. But that God’s in the response. God’s in the reaction. Like I totally saw God in Susan Spencer-Wendel’s response to her ALS. God’s in the people who come in for the celebration or the rescue. Maybe that’s a cop out, maybe that’s just me making up something to make me feel better.
I’m ok with that. Maybe that’s what faith is in the first place. Something to make us feel better about the craziness that is life. I think God’s right there in that too. Our tiny, weak, pathetic attempts at faith.
*the opinions expressed in this blog are my own and only my own. I write this blog to hash things out. Not to espouse a certain mindset or belief system. if you agree, great. if you don’t, also great. i’m not interested in you bashing my beliefs and making me feel horrible, so just save that because i will not read nor approve your comments. Nor am I interested in your attempts to sway me in a different direction so again, save your breath. if you have a nice supportive thing to say great, go ahead. I’d love to hear that. Yes I am a wimp and yes I hate confrontation and argument and disagreement. So. That’s all. Just be nice. The end.
I just plugged in the Christmas tree…not too many days left for that, as we will probably take it down this weekend. It’s really hard to believe that Christmas wasn’t even a week ago, it feels like months already. I was thinking this year that I don’t really love Christmas day at all…I’m much more partial to the Christmas season as a whole, but Christmas day feels kind of like a let down because it’s all over, all that build up and then…done.
It got me to thinking about just what I love about the season, and I think it’s the magic and the mystery of it all. The lights, the anticipation, the excitement of gifts to give, the music. As a Christian, the birth of Jesus is a central focus during this time of year, and even though my faith has changed dramatically, I can say honestly that during the Christmas season is when Jesus feels the most real to me. The story of the Nativity is so odd. Such a strange idea, that God would come to earth as a baby. But there’s such an other-worldly, magical quality to the Nativity story…the carols, even, in their minor keys, using archaic, slightly incomprehensible language. It’s like the one time of the year that we acknowledge that, yeah, this whole Jesus the Messiah born in a Manger thing is kind of weird sounding, but that we’re all ok with that. Even people who don’t claim to follow him will be caught singing about Jesus come to save the world…it trips me out to see some of the Christmas music put out by random secular artists. Singing about our sin and savior when you’re pretty sure they’re just looking to sell some records, not worship any one god in particular.
I grew up Catholic and I have to say I think they did a way better job of capturing the magic of the season. Those midnight masses, with the live Nativity at the front of the church. All the candles and the incense. You’re sleepy and tired and everything seems kind of dream-like. Evangelical church services are pretty cut and dry, even at Christmas. The advent wreath is kind of an afterthought. The church we attend on occasion does a nice finale where we all sing Silent Night with candles and it’s beautiful but otherwise there’s not much magic there. I was thinking this week about how we used to actually (sometimes) go to church on Christmas…which seems like a foreign concept anymore. I’m not saying I want to go to church on Christmas morning, but I wonder if maybe it shouldn’t be an option more than it is?? I don’t know.
I think most people want magic and mystery in our lives…that’s why Harry Potter and Narnia and Tolkein and stories like that capture our imagination. We want something to believe in that is extraordinary, beyond what we can see. I think Christmas could capture that for Christians…most of the time Christians have killed the magic and mystery of the faith. Everything’s been boiled down to a list of rules, a political ideology, a “Merry Christmas” and not a “Happy Holidays”, a who’s in and who’s out, us against them, we have the truth and you don’t, believe this or go to hell death cycle that apparently some people get off on but not me. And I’m guessing not a lot of people, if anyone’s really listening to people out there.
I was driving to the airport Christmas night, listening to my Christmas CD…the day was over, the season mostly over…but the stars were twinkling and I could almost see that little stable, with angels and shepherds and the magi somewhere far away noticing an unusual astronomical event…I could still feel the magic. I’m hoping that this year I can let that feeling, that mystery, be my guide in my faith and I can ignore all the people out there who want to stomp all that out in the name of some cold, practical faith.
Peace on earth…goodwill to men.
I typically hate cutesy church marquees as a rule. I think it’s ridiculous to try and parse out Christianity into a pithy little saying. I’m not sure what the point is or who churches think they are going to attract, but apparently someone out there things they are a real clever “marketing” tool. But I saw one yesterday that particularly rubbed me the wrong way:
“Faith Builds. Unbelief Destroys.”
Gag. The kind of absolute statement that means nothing to the majority of the population. It really bothered me because my life the last couple years has been marked by a pretty significant period of unbelief. Would this make me want to come to that church? Not in a million years.
But it got me thinking…I get what they’re trying to say, but I think they’re wrong. I think faith can build–and destroy. I think unbelief can be destructive–and a source of growth and strength.
Think about it. The faith of the 9-11 hijackers–they were absolutely 100% certain of their belief, their faith, in their god and the holiness of their mission. It was also 100% destructive. The “faith” of the Westboro Baptist Church–who clearly are sold on the beliefs they espouse–is totally destructive to the families they harass and the groups they choose to single out as hated by God. The faith of whites and slaveholders, who were firm in their belief that whites are superior, blacks and other minorities deserve to be subjugated and enslaved…that faith destroyed families, lives, cultures, and created a rift amongst humanity that has yet to be entirely healed.
And what about unbelief? Doesn’t it sometimes take doubt to build something new, to make important changes? Back to the slavery/racism issue–didn’t it take the doubt of African-Americans, their unbelief in the faith system that they were being sold, to begin to push for equality and freedom? To say “I don’t believe that this is how God wants it?” And the whites who began to doubt with them, to stand up and say that no, this “faith” was not a faith they believed in anymore?
I think that sometimes it takes doubt and unbelief to actually bring about change. I know for myself–I have struggled with unbelief and doubt for probably my entire life, but it’s only the last couple years that I have stopped trying to fight against it, to embrace it, and see where I end up. Honestly in some ways I feel stronger than I did before. I feel more sure in my doubt (which I know, makes no sense) than I did when I tried to pretend there was no doubt.
Because I think honestly everyone who has ever lived struggles with doubt and unbelief. Even the most ardent believer doubts, even if its just in the dark hours in the middle of the night where your head takes you to places you don’t want to go. So we craft clever sayings like the one listed above and try to stuff the doubts away and pretend they don’t exist and shame people into thinking that somehow their unbelief makes them “less than,” is a reflection on their worth in God’s sight, is a sign of their weakness.
Well hello–we are all weak. We are all helpless in the face of God, in the face of the universe. Why don’t we just admit it already and admit we’re scared and afraid and wonder what, if anything, it all means? Why can’t we BUILD something with our unbelief and our doubts?
I believe that God is big enough for my unbelief. For everyone’s unbelief. I think there is faith even in the middle of the deepest doubt. I believe there is TRUTH in doubt and unbelief. I mean, one of my favorite musicians, Frank Turner, is an unapologetic atheist. And yet his words and lyrics can speak to the deepest, truest part of me. How is that destructive?
Honestly I think words and phrases like the one on that church marquee comes back to trying to squeeze God into a very small box. To making him quick and easy and comprehensible. To turning him into a “tame lion.” And while that may make some people feel better about themselves, in the end I think it’s pretty destructive and not building anything.
I don’t know about you, but when someone says “mid-life crisis”, I think of an older, balding guy, with a bit of a paunch, who goes out and buys a hot new convertible and starts chasing after the cute secretary at work. Definitely a media-contrived image. I am none of those things.
I think all of us go through a lot of different crises in our lives, at various stages (I know there’s some psychological theory of this, I’m sure of it. Piaget?? No, Erikson, right?), but since I’m pretty much in “mid-life” and definitely having a “crisis”, this is where my head is at right now.
I’m thinking that perhaps the reason many of us struggle when we hit 40 is that we’re not where we thought we’d be, for one thing. When you’re 20 and getting ready to get out of college and start some career, 40 seems so far away. It seems so old and established. It feels like surely you’ll have it all together by that ripe old age.
And then the years fly by and you get to that ripe old age and you’re more confused than ever. I think as we grow, as we age, we realize that life isn’t the black and white picture we think it is when we’re younger and less experienced. Our experiences in the workplace, as parents, spouses, humans show us–or should, anyway–that there are so many shades of grey in that picture, and that the picture of life and the world is far more complex and varied than we had realized. It’s like we are seeing better and more clearly on the one hand, and yet in seeing that we realize that we really can’t see clearly at all. It’s like we get the vision to recognize that our vision sucks.
There’s a line in a Ben Fold’s song that I love…”You get smaller while the world gets big. The more you know, you know you don’t know sh–.” It’s like the more we see, experience and learn the less we actually know. And that’s a pretty disconcerting thing. It shakes your confidence in yourself and your abilities, in the people and the world around you, and, if you believe in God, I daresay it will shake your faith and belief in God too.
Those years between college and 40 fly by faster than you ever imagined. You change in ways you couldn’t have foreseen. All the judgement and criticism you had for other people suddenly reflects back at you, and it’s not always a pretty picture. People around you have started to get sick, maybe cancer or MS or something. People you know actually start dying (if you were lucky enough to have avoided that up to this point). You start to get cracks. Cracks in the foundation of everything you think your life stands on.
Anyone knows that if your home’s foundation has cracks, you’re in trouble. Something needs to be fixed and pronto, or else its all going to come crashing down on you. Some of us are good at fixing those cracks. Some of us just shove some caulk or something in there in hopes that they will just go away. (Did you ever do that at college? Use toothpaste to fill in the holes you’d made in the walls? Cosmetically it worked but…)
I feel like I’ve gone from cracks in the foundation to a major home renovation. Like with the cracks the walls came down all around me and I now have to start over from scratch. With a whole new foundation even.
I’m hoping that the end result will be better than the one before. One of the blogs I follow is titled “Unfinished 1”, and the most recent post there was about how the author is still unfinished, still a work in progress. And will always be a work in progress. Maybe the different crises in our lives are chances for rebuilding, for reframing things and making them stronger and better. So that perhaps the next “earthquake” that comes along won’t shake the walls down entirely.
I’m trusting that the contractor hasn’t taken off mid-renovation. I feel like the foundation is being re-poured, and while it’s certainly not set yet, I’m seeing progress. Small, microscopic progress. This is a project that is going to take a while. And it’ll definitely need repairs and additions along the way. But hopefully it’ll end up being more functional than the original.
That was a really drawn out analogy. It’s probably trite and sucky, but it’s working for me right now and making me feel less crazy. Less crisis-y. More hopeful.